Only a small percentage of the population can afford to approach the courts for justice, the majority suffer in silence, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said on July 30.
The Chief Justice highlighted India’s hard reality of social and economic disparities affecting the democratic objective of justice for all.
The majority of the population lack legal awareness and necessary means to approach the courts, the top judge said.
“Modern India was built around the goal of removing the disparities in the society. Project Democracy is about providing a space for participation of all. Participation will not be possible without social emancipation. Access to justice is a tool for social emancipation,” the CJI said in his address at the All India District Legal Services Authorities Meet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju were guests on the dais along with Justices U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud.
Chief Justice Ramana said that strengthening of the district judiciary was the “need of the hour”. They are the first point of contact for much of the population. Public’s opinion about the judiciary would primarily rest on their experiences with the district judicial officers.
“The district judiciary is the backbone of the justice delivery system in the world’s largest democracy... You must undertake multifaceted tasks and roles. You are best placed to understand people’s problems and social issues... Without any doubt, the district judiciary is the driving force behind the legal aid movement in India,” the CJI said.
In this regard, the judiciary and lawyers should actively intervene on behalf of the rights of undertrial prisoners. ‘Jail visiting advocates’ should make timely representations to authorities on behalf of undertrials. They should also reach out to the families of these prisoners who are often in the dark about what happens behind the prison walls.
In his speech, the CJI urged the judiciary not to “camouflage or hide” its problems.
“If we intend to serve the people better, we need to flag the issues which hinder our functioning. There is no meaning in camouflaging or hiding the problems. If we don’t discuss these issues, if matters of pressing concern are not addressed, then the system will cripple. I fear, we may be unable to fulfil our constitutional mandate of social justice. I urge you therefore, to discuss, debate and decide!” Chief Justice Ramana exhorted the judiciary.
For one, he said, the issues of conditions of service, remunerations and infrastructure deserve immediate attention.
Hails NALSA for services
Justice Ramana hailed the services provided by NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) following its inception 27 years ago and said, “The fact that it is aimed at offering free legal aid to 70% of our population, makes NALSA the largest legal aid provider in the world.”
Many of the objectives of NALSA have been translated to social realities and this was made possible because of the sincere effort of dedicated judges and advocates, he said.
The CJI also stressed the need for strengthening alternate dispute redressal (ADR) mechanisms like Lok Adalat, mediation and arbitration centres.
These ADR mechanisms have the potential to transform the legal landscape of India by providing millions of people a platform to settle their grievances, he said.
“Matters ranging from matrimonial and intergovernmental disputes, government contracts and land acquisition can be attempted to be resolved through mandatory ADR. This will not only reduce pendency and backlog but also will provide a much-needed speedy justice to affected parties,” Justice Ramana said.
The two-day meet, organised by NALSA, is being attended by over 1,200 delegates across the nation including the principal district and sessions judge of all the judicial districts and ex officio chairpersons of DLSAs and would discuss the implementation of the unified business process for providing effective legal aid to marginalised and poor.